Halloween: More Christian than Pagan

This is from my archives at the Anxious Bench, originally published Oct 31, 2015. Although I have previewed it this year with my recent 2016 posts  Burning Witches in Medieval Europe? and The Modern Roots of Pagan Halloween , this post stands as I originally wrote it. We, of course, will carve pumpkins again very soon (next [Read More…]

The Place Called Dagon

I have been posting abut the modern mythology that tried to understand witchcraft as an authentic underground survival of ancient paganism, and how those myths of witchcraft and devil worship evolved into the modern farrago of Satanism. Throughout, I stress the role of academics, and of fiction-writers, whose ideas came to be believed as sober [Read More…]

Up on the Downs

I have been posting about the creation of modern myths about paganism, human sacrifice and other dark rural deeds in twentieth century Britain. Throughout, I have emphasized how artificial these ideas are, in the sense of being literary or artistic creations, commonly reinforced by the growth of sensationalist tabloid media. Many of the works in [Read More…]

Britain’s Pagan Twilight

I have been writing about the long-standing British fascination with the idea of a continuing rural paganism, ideas that in the 1960s grew into the genre of Folk Horror. But why did the ideas of witch-cult theorist Margaret Murray attract such a wide and credulous following? Looking at the writings of such mainstream figures as [Read More…]

Wood Magic

I have been posting about pagan survivals into Christian times, not in terms of actual continuities so much as modern romantic reconstructions of those matters. As I noted, scholars like Margaret Murray used such a vision as the basis for a whole recreation of a supposed ancient paganism surviving in modern times in the form [Read More…]

Witches in the Village

In 1945, English villager Charles Walton was gruesomely murdered in what sensationalist media decided was a sinister “witch murder,” even a human sacrifice, in the community of Lower Quinton. That story, as described by detective Robert Fabian, became the foundation of a whole genre of fantastic fiction, Folk Horror, and this spilled over into the [Read More…]

The Black Dog and the Wicker Man

Last time I described how rogue academics produced a mythology of continuing paganism and human sacrifice in supposedly Christian England, right up to modern times. The main rogue in question was an Egyptologist gone bad by the name of Margaret Murray. Supposedly, there was a continuing tradition of secret underground paganism linked to ancient cults [Read More…]

Did Medieval Christians Accommodate Paganism?

The Roman Pantheon is awesome. And I mean “awesome” in the sense that my good-English-professor-friend would approve: it evokes feelings of awe and wonder. I caught my first glimpse of this 2000 year-old building after stepping from a stone-paved street into the Piazza della Rotonda. We were on our way back from the Roman Forum and, [Read More…]

The Modern Roots of “Pagan” Easter

In the late nineteenth century, a Cambridge scholar sat at his desk and wove a brilliant story about comparative religious practices. “ALL over Europe,” he argued, “the peasants have been accustomed from time immemorial to kindle bonfires on certain days of the year, and to dance round or leap over them. Customs of this kind [Read More…]


For much of human history, it is exceedingly difficult to hear the voices of ordinary people, and especially of those whose ideas run contrary to the approved ideologies of the day. Through the long Christian Middle Ages, for instance, it’s hard to reconstruct the mindset of people who did not agree with basic church teachings. [Read More…]